Digital Project Proposal: Streamlining Crowdsourced Oral Histories

Josh Zampetti

There are many crowdsourced oral histories out there, the most recognized being the Story Corps project. As popular as it may be, I think there are other methods that could be used that might provide more content along with a streamlined process.  Mind you, I’m not proposing that these methods are better, but perhaps simply alternative; something worth trying out to play with potential outcomes.

First, it might be nice if there was a way for people to contribute their stories without the need of an interviewer.  As of now, the process requires two participants, the interviewer and the interviewee, and though the interviewer does not need to be an experienced professional, the process does require a willingness to interview that may not always be present.  What if the interviewer was always experienced, but also always available?  A project that only requires entries from interviewees, while the interviewer is provided by the site itself could streamline the process, in that the only needed participants are people who are willing to talk about themselves through a submitted audio file, answering questions also provided by the site, designed by experienced interviewers with training in history.

Second, in this format, it would be possible for interviewed subjects to add on to existing submitted files, creating an entire archive for only themselves.  This may seem unnecessary, until you consider the crowdsourcing of numerous subjects, each representing their own regions and communities, which would allow for multiple layers of data and a wealthy source of interpretive information.

Additionally, providing the subjects the opportunity to create their own tags in a questionnaire or survey, and allowing them to submit multiple audio files with each entry, the data could be neatly placed into a database.  Essentially, we’re talking about a crowdsourced transcription, tagging, and oral history tool, that allows for multiple entries that build on each other.  Not only would the metadata be provided, the audio files would serve as interpretive elements broken into small pieces for easier consumption and categorization.

A proof of concept is already in the works, but the idea behind this project was formulated during discussions of what could be considered a “history-making process” that involves memory, post-memory, and identity construction.  It is not driven by events, but rather individuals and the mechanisms they use for dealing with their social environment.  The goal is to document this process by designing questions, monthly, that utilize psychoanalytical methods in drawing out formative memory and experience regarding identity construction, to understand the role these mechanisms play in the history-making process.

The design currently in the works involves a website that introduces concepts monthly, usually involving concepts that back the mission of the site: memory, post-memory, region, and identity.  Questions driven by psychoanalytical methods are to be unveiled in a form which will be filled out by the participant, along with audio upload options that accompany each segment of the questionnaire.  The form then pushes the input into tags constructed in the database.  The goal is to have a one-stop procedure in which multiple audio files are uploaded accompanied by all the necessary metadata without any work from the researcher. The data can then be used for interpretive uses, either for mapping, or anything else the researcher might choose.

One Reply to “Digital Project Proposal: Streamlining Crowdsourced Oral Histories”

  1. Exploring new ways of producing and enabling the production of oral history material is an interesting idea. It strikes me that there might also be a case for something relating to this that could focus on engaging with the elderly around storytelling and memory. In that vein, it might be interesting to check out this project that started out at Stanford that focused on working with email for the elderly to engage with and explore their memories. (See )

    One of the things that I like about your concept here is the way that it pushes back against some of the default assumptions of oral history work. In thinking about this, I remembered the way that AMA on reddit has become a whole platform for storytelling and memory sharing. I realize that it’s all textual, but it may be interesting as an example for thinking through various forms of social interaction around storytelling.

    It also strikes me that some of the ongoing work that get’s shared at the Personal Digital Archiving conference may be relevant as you think about this project. (See for videos from the event).

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